Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Worth a Read

As the year ends, developments at the Supreme Court – the revelations about judicial behavior that resulted in the adoption of a Code of Conduct and anticipation about what appears to be a momentous term – have dominated the world of appellate advocacy.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published two fascinating pieces focused on the Court and its actions in Dobbs,[1] the 2022 decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.[2] One article, a revealing behind-the-scenes report on the acceptance and development of Dobbs, describes maneuvering undertaken by different justices to either accept or reject the case, including a calculation that delay will make the result more acceptable and a change of position on granting the petition. The article also covers the process of developing the opinion that leaked but remained largely intact when officially issued. The inside baseball described should interest any appellate advocate.

The second, a column by the inestimable Linda Greenhouse, discusses how Dobbs showed that the late Justice O’Connor erred in believing that judicial decisions are largely reactive and reflect an emerging social consensus. The op-ed also previews soon-to-be-published research about how the Supreme Court undermined its own reputation and authority by moving so far out of the mainstream in the same opinion. Both articles are well worth a read.

In many ways, the issues currently surrounding the Supreme Court do not have analogues among other courts, and the institutional concerns described in both pieces do not affect many of the decisions of even the Supreme Court. To be sure, some of the public’s flagging confidence and respect for the Court is a function of the ethics issues that have swirled around the Court, as well as growing public support for judicial term limits. Still, nothing dominates the public discussions like reactions to unpopular decisions.

What happens at the Supreme Court, unlike what happens in Las Vegas, does not stay there. It plainly affects the public view of the judiciary more generally. Recent surveys conducted on behalf of the National Center for State Courts show that the Supreme Court’s plunging public reputation has dragged down public confidence in all courts. The unfortunate result, though, is that discontent with the Court only fuels the current disrespect for the rule of law and our ability to function as a representative democracy at a time when democracy itself is threatened.

As officers of the court and as counsel familiar with the principles that undergird our system, we have an obligation to work to repair some of the damage done. Let’s dedicate ourselves with the approach of a new year to finding ways to restore respect and confidence in the rule of law.


[1] Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 597 U.S. 215 (2022).

[2] 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

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